4. Pride and Prejudice (1980)

...with 4 hours and 45 minutes of bread and water for dessert.

I admit to reviewing this as something of an afterthought. Perhaps it shows. It is tough to recommend to anyone but Austen completists, who are not all that thick on the ground anymore, and for hardcore fans of the story. Not because it's all that bad - it's actually pretty good in fits and starts - and the 1995 version lifts several scenes and camera angles pretty closely out of this version, but overall it feels kinda airless. BBC appears to have shot everything on video back in the day and it doesn't age well. Aside from being fuzzy, it just looks wrong. Watching Regency-era Brits act in front of a camcorder feels a bit like watching Babe Ruth in HD. Just wrong.

There is also the issue of lighting and sound. I've said in other reviews that I kind of appreciate BBC's willingness to just hang a microphone, shoulder-mount a camera, and let fly, but that applies more to outdoor scenes and the multitude of carriage scenes inherent in Austen. Once the action moves inside what you get are period-appropriate shoes clippity-clopping across undamped wooden floors. Unpleasant and distracting. And all the lighting is basically the same. Day, night, dancing, milking cow, reading, etc. Doesn't matter - all lit the same. In the end this feels like a stage play with a few outdoor scenes. Tolerable but artless. This adaptation was done by an actress named Fay Weldon, who does a great book-on-cassette reading of the book, but that doesn't make a great show.

We shall take the story as rote by now. If you need a review, go spend 8 hours watching the first two, or, perhaps, read my other reviews, or hell, I dunno, the book. Unlike Pride & Prejudice Express from 2005, this version has every character intact, most scenes intact, and a few added ones that add nothing but irritation. Aquatic Safety Hat anyone? I never blame screenwriters for what they remove from beloved classics, but I can't help but disapprove of what they add.

And there is the problem of ages. Claire Higgins would be fine as the 17 year-old Kitty, except she's 25 and looks it. She looks quite a bit older than any of her older sisters. One wonders. Anyway, she would go on to become the best reason to watch "Hellraiser", and later Ma Costa in "The Golden Compass".

So, what's good? I feel I must defend David Rintoul, or as my daughters call him, Robo-Darcy. This is how the character was written by Austen, at least early in the story. Stiff and petty and soulless and in great need of redemption. Colin Firth's soulful, misunderstood Darcy is brilliantly acted, and Matthew Macfadyen's Darcy Express is good enough, I suppose, but Rintoul gets Darcy right, for better or worse.

The first proposal presents the scene as written more accurately. Firth is desparate and flustered from the beginning, but Rintoul is properly haughty as a man who views his acceptance as a foregone conclusion. And listen to his voice-over reading of his letter, almost verbatim from the book. This is our first glimpse of a wounded man bleeding out, and Rintoul's reading seems perfect to me. If you were wondering just how beautiful Austen's flow can be coming out of the proper pie hole, well here it is. Long clip, slightly chopped by your host - sorry.

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"But I shall not scruple to assert..." That is a quill pen on fire. Continuing...

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The scene is oddly staged, switching from side views of the actors to a huge overhead shot and back again, over and over, perhaps to show the widening gulf between them. What else you gonna do with 5 minutes of letter reading, I guess.

The clip is also pretty good because Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth Bennet doesn't have much to do. I'm afraid that's for the best. She's cute and physically about right, but she has a limited set of facial expressions and sometimes they come out wrong. Asked to look inward, Garvie sort of takes on a Jodie Foster "I'm a-fixin' to punch somebody" mask. At other times she's too bright-eyed and spunky even as parts of her world crash around her. Asked to cry, she sort of smiles real hard and then blinks a bunch. Otherwise, the scene below compares favorably to the similar scene excerpted from 1995's version with Ehle and Firth, even down to the camera angles. The dialog is closer to Austen, and Darcy is more distant, as he probably should be played. Unfortunately, the acting doesn't get much better than this. Also, listen to the clatter and bang as Elizabeth pulls the letter out of her lap. Was there a microphone all up in there somewhere?

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The actress playing Lydia is just nauseating in this scene below where Elizabeth discovers that Mr. Darcy was at Lydia's wedding. And Elizabeth blurts out "Mr. Darcy!" like something straight out of high school stage play rehearsal. This is what happens when Austen, again pretty closely followed here, does not come out of the proper pie hole.

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Why they didn't just do it again is beyond me. Its almost unfair comparing Garvie to Jennifer Ehle who projects gravity and heartbreak and humor so well. That said, I think I agree with other Netflix reviewers who say many of the secondary parts in this version are less over the top, less shrill, and therefore easier to watch, especially Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennet.

So yeah, it's shot on video and appears "undernourished" as Andrew Davies said, but it is a solid effort for hard core fans. Just not for anyone else, I'm afraid.


P.S. David Rintoul had a very successful BBC career. The blonde guy who plays Wickham became Princess Di's voice coach and notoriously taped some of her speech sessions and later sold them to BBC. He now runs a very successful communications and documentary film company.

P.P.S. And now, dear readers, since I have long since been flogging the flesh off this dead horse, I shall take a long respite from Pride & Prejudice. I suspect you beat me to it.